When you learn that one of your clients has filed a lawsuit against you for malpractice, you may suddenly feel your confidence plummet. You will likely go through every step of the case in your mind — the preparation, the presentation of evidence, the many objections — and wonder where you may have made a critical error.
No matter how long you have been practicing law, you understand that you cannot win every case. As much as you give to a client’s best interests, there is still a chance that the other side will win, and this may mean terrible consequences for your client. However, it does not necessarily mean you have committed legal malpractice.
The highest level of conduct
From your earliest days in law school, you studied the California Rules of Professional Conduct established by The State Bar of California. This code of ethics applies to all attorneys in the state and holds them to a high standard of behavior in their professional duties, their relationships with their clients and their financial dealings.
Your former client will have to prove that, through carelessness or incompetence, you violated this code when you made errors that breached your duty to the client and resulted in harm to him or her, including a financial loss. Your opponent must also demonstrate that another lawyer with reasonable ability could have won the case if those errors had not been made. Some examples of a lawyer’s breach of duty may include these and other behaviors:
- Breaching fiduciary duties by commingling your client’s money with your own
- Representing a client whose cause is in conflict with your existing duties or relationships
- Failing to give your client satisfactory representation through poor preparation or inadequate knowledge of the law
- Failing to communicate with your client
- Overstepping the professional boundaries with your client
Your opponent will have to prove that any of the supposed breaches of your duties was the cause of your client losing his or her case and suffering the subsequent damages. While this is a delicate and complex undertaking, it is advisable for you to have legal counsel when faced with such accusations.
Even if the matter does not go to trial, you will undoubtedly face a hearing with the disciplinary board. Having an attorney with experience defending lawyers before disciplinary boards will give you a decided advantage.